Prioritising Workplace Wellbeing: The Transformative Impact of Psychological Safety
In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, prioritising employee wellbeing has become increasingly crucial. One key aspect that has gained significant attention is psychological safety. This term, more commonly used recently, refers to creating a work environment where individuals feel safe to express themselves, take risks, share ideas, and learn from mistakes without fear of negative consequences.
Psychological safety is not only essential for building high-performing teams but also plays a vital role in promoting overall wellbeing. In this article, we explore the concept of psychological safety, its significance in fostering workplace wellbeing, and practical strategies for cultivating a culture that prioritises employees’ mental, emotional, and social health.
The term’ Psychological safety’ has recently become more common in our language. It is certainly something we have explicitly been working on with organisations in recent months, to help to build and embed psychological safety in teams, partnering leaders to create the space needed for this to be nurtured. It undoubtedly isn’t a quick fix, but a longer-term process that needs commitment and courage to hold the course and make it a priority.
Interestingly, Amy Edmondson first talked about the term’ psychological safety’ and what it meant in work teams back in 1999. I wonder if now, it has risen up the agenda post-pandemic, where mental health and wellbeing has increased in conscious awareness and organisational focus.
Psychological safety is a core foundation for any team to work effectively (or relationship if you broaden it out). It is an essential requirement for any team striving to become high performing. In organisational culture development, building psychological safety is a key step for leaders to set by example in order to ensure the environment for teams enables people to be honest and trust that their contribution, concerns and ideas are valid and valued.
It is also, as you would expect, incredibly important for all of our wellbeing. Our mental, physical, emotional and social wellbeing is dependent on feeling psychologically safe in the environment we are in. When it is not present, this is one factor leading to toxic environments, unhealthy conflict, mistrust, disengagement and burnout. Not surprisingly, these environments don’t sustain high performance either.
So what exactly is Psychological Safety?
“Team psychological safety is a shared belief held by
members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences” (Harvard Business Review, Feb 23)
Amy Edmondson (1), Professor at Harvard Business School, adds to the above ‘…the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking‘ and explains that it is about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes and learning from each other.
Her TED talks and latest book ‘The Fearless Organisation – creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation and growth‘ are worth checking out if this is a topic you want to learn more about.
What it isn’t?
It is also important to note what psychological safety is not. It is not all about being nice and feeling comfortable all the time. Actually, in order to do it well, healthy conflict and diversity of thinking, strengths and ideas are needed. This is how we grow as individuals, teams and organisations. If we lived in our comfort zone, nothing would change or develop and we wouldn’t discover new approaches, challenge and stretch ourselves to accomplish and realise our full potential.
The difference is when there is a high level of psychological safety, people trust that it is OK to share ideas, take some risks, ask for help, challenge when they don’t agree with something, and voice a different opinion. All of those things are key to an effective culture.
If leaders, at whatever level of the organisation they are, can remove blocks to psychological safety, then it will facilitate greater connection for people both to each other and to the organisation.
People then co-regulate with each other and establish healthy relationships, as well as collaborating more, being more creative and ambitious and increasing the overall sense of wellbeing. This means people feel happier, engage more, perform better, thrive in their careers, contribute more and in turn, this results in happier customers, colleagues and stakeholders and a sustainably healthy bottom line.
Why is it important?
Amongst benefits on multiple levels, some key outcomes include:
- Team members feel happier, more motivated, engaged and valued for their contribution
- There is greater collaboration across different teams as people trust one another and actively seek out help, input, etc.
- It leads to better quality decision making through more diverse perspectives, ideas and voices
- It fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, as people are not afraid of being blamed or shamed for making a mistake or something not working as intended
- Innovation becomes prized, enabling greater creativity, willingness and appetite to stand out, be seen and be different
- It enables greater creativity, resilience, wellbeing and performance
What it looks and feels like
Consider these points taken from the Center for Creative Leadership (2) below and I invite you to reflect for yourselves on how many of these are true for you in the team you work with:
- If you make a mistake on this team, it is not held against you.
- Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
- People on this team accept others for being different.
- It is safe to take a risk on this team.
- It isn’t difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
- No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
- Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilised.
If you feel that there is some room for development and further psychological safety in your team or organisation, the Center for Creative leadership go on to offer some practical strategies that may be helpful:
- Make psychological safety an explicit priority
- Connect it to a higher purpose, ask for& give help when needed and model the behaviours you want to see. Establish clear norms and expectations so there is a sense of predictability and fairness
- Facilitate everyone speaking up
- Be open-minded, curious and compassionate, willing to listen when someone is brave enough to challenge the status quo. Let people know regularly and consistently that you want their input, why it matters and how it will affect the outcomes of the work you do
- Establish norms for how failure is handled
- Actively encourage learning from mistakes, failure and disappointment, openly share hard won lessons learned from mistakes. Promote innovation and courage to try different ideas. Admit your own fallibility – normalise vulnerability, be respectful of people, open up about mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned
- Create space for new ideas (even wild ones!)
- Be appreciative and forward-thinking. Encourage people to voice and share new ideas, within the context that some will work and others may not, but contribution is always welcome. Seek to listen and learn, be curious, ask questions that open the dialogue
- Embrace productive conflict
- Encourage and enable honest and constructive debate. Establish clear expectations as a team, around how communications and conflict will be managed
- Pay close attention and look for patterns
- Consider each individual’s beliefs, needs and strategies for psychological safety – not one size fits all
- Make an intentional effort to promote dialogue
- Create space for people to raise concerns. Promote skill at giving and receiving feedback. Encourage quality conversations and mechanisms that facilitate them
- Celebrate wins
- Recognise peoples’ efforts. Celebrate what’s going well, no matter how small. Express gratitude, give people the benefit of the doubt when they ask for help, make a mistake or take a risk.
We hope this exploration of psychological safety and its impact on workplace wellbeing has resonated with you. If you believe there is room for further development and improvement in your team or organisation, we are here to help.
Contact us to learn more about how we can support you in your journey towards building psychological safety and enhancing workplace wellbeing.